Friday, November 22, 2013

Judge who berated jurors could have violated judicial canons

Texas Lawyer's John Council has a feature (Nov. 21) on the story (covered here on Grits) of a visiting judge in Tarrant County berating jurors for issuing a verdict with which he disagreed in a DWI case. The conclusion of the story suggests the judge may have even violated canons of judicial ethics:
There's a reason why judges are well advised to keep their thoughts about a jury's verdict to themselves, said George Gallagher, judge of the 396th District Court in Tarrant County.
"The Code of Judicial Conduct is the first thing, to start out with. And then you have, on top of that, the Texas ethics rules—the rules that lawyers and judges have to follow. And both of those codes emphasize that, whether you're a judge or a lawyer, you should take no action that can contaminate jurors," Gallagher said. 
Those same jurors may be called back for service years later, Gallagher noted, and it could become problematic if during voir dire they detail their prior bad experience with a judge. 
"And then you've got 45 other people that say, 'Yeah we agree with them,' " Gallagher says. 
Judges normally refrain from publicly disagreeing with jurors because of Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, according to Lillian Hardwick, an Austin lawyer who consults on judicial ethics issues and is co-author of "The Handbook on Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics.'

She points to Canon 3 B (4), which requires that a judge "shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity ... " and Canon 3B (5) which requires that a judge "shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice."
Another reason judges usually refrain from publicly disagreeing with jurors is it may create recusal issues for the jurist later, Hardwick said.

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